The goals of the Student Science Communication Project (SSCP) are to teach writing, communication, literature searching and referencing skills, and the basics of wiki writing to undergraduate and graduate students. The Project is an exciting opportunity for college and university faculty wishing to introduce and develop writing skills—and other communication methods—to their science-attentive students, while also producing articles publishable on the Encyclopedia of Earth.
The following guidelines are derived from experience gained from projects at several colleges and universities; you can read about these here. Every project is different, so these guidelines are general in nature: we encourage teachers to be creative.
Questions or comments? Contact Emily Monosson, Director of the Student Science Communication Project.
Quotes from students in the Mount Holyoke project in Spring 2008:
“Writing for the EoE made me more conscious of doing research, where I pull information from, trying to avoid opinions…”
“It’s great to see my name in public. It also makes me feel accountable to get it right, despite the difficulty of the review process.”
“Taking a risk and sending articles out for outside review is an area for growth – I know now I can do that whenever I need…”
“…it is an awesome idea, and a great site. I'm so happy I got to be a part of it"
Choosing a Topic
Since the expectation is that students will write high quality, scientific articles, it is useful to limit students to topics within the realm of expertise of the instructor.
Because researching and creating EoE articles requires writing skills, depth of understanding of the topic and its context, and familiarity with current research and literature, we recommended that this class be offered to advanced students well-versed in a particular topic, or to graduate students.
Faculty and students should be familiar with the overall scope and aims of the EoE through the following EoE readings: About Encyclopedia of Earth; Encyclopedia of Earth FAQs, and Review of Encyclopedia of Earth.
Writing EoE Style
Students are asked to study EoE articles for content and style. For example, you can point students to articles you think are good examples of EOE style and writing:
Aim for articles in the 1,000 to 1,500 word range.
Researching and writing the article
If students are writing new articles from scratch, writing in stages may be most useful. First students prepare a research-based review paper or article, complete with embedded citations. Once the faculty advisor reviews and approves of the content in this long form, the students can then prepare a shorter article in EOE format which can then be sent for review (see below.)
Students can also prepare EOE articles summarizing longer influential review articles that are available in the literature (making sure the primary review article is cited as a source.)
Or, they can seek out EOE articles in need of updating - providing an opportunity to collaborate with the lead author, or articles which could be expanded (such as articles published on EOE written by students from previous classes.) These options provide students with an opportunity to communicate and collaborate with other students and scientists from around the country.
Another way to start an article is to grab a Wikipedia article that is in the instructor's area of expertise. EOE policy allows for some or all of a Wikipedia article to be used as the basis for an EoE article, provided that the final product meets our editorial and quality control guidelines. Students then perform additional research to extend, edit, or otherwise modify the original Wikepedia article. Instructors must work closely with students to insure that a Wikipedia article is an appropriate and productive starting point.
There other ways to start an article. Lecture notes, Powerpoint presentations, and other materials developed for instruction could be excellent seed material for articles.
Drafts, drafts, drafts
Writing for the EoE requires removing citations and summarizing in their own words. This can be difficult for students. It’s easy to cite something that they may not completely understand—particularly for undergraduates—but removing citations requires a deeper understanding. Writing like this is new for students, and sometimes it can take several drafts (fortunately articles are short!)
Articles are edited by faculty members for completeness, correctness, fact-checking, appropriate sources, etc. For example our class went through two rounds of review. Additionally, since this course requires a good deal of review, editing, and resubmission, the turn-around time for edits was short—and students were expected to respond to edits just as rapidly, .
We require that all articles, prior to submission to EOE, be sent for outside expert review (unless the instructor is qualified to be a reviewer on the topic.) While all EOE articles are reviewed internally, our assumption is that the typical article is submitted by qualified experts whom we've already approved. This is not the case with student articles - so it is imperative that we ensure the quality of student articles in this way.
There are benefits to requiring outside review besides enhancing article quality - reaching out to scientists in the field by sending their article with a query letter provides students with an invaluable experience.While students may receive mixed responses from experts (some very encouraging, others straight-forward and terse), students who have participated in this process, agree that the experience gave them the confidence to reach out to scientists in the future as they move on to careers in science, writing, and policy.
Outside expert review will require an extra week or two for responses (and sometimes for back and forth between students and scientists) and should be worked into the schedule. We suggest that the advisor work with students on a suitable cover letter for review—right down to how to address the letter to scientists, which might include a link to EOE so that they understand our format (including our policy of including a reference list, without embedded citations (unless they are unavoidable.)
We also request that upon submission of a student's article to EOE, they include 1) the reviewers name and affiliation, which may be included in a note at the bottom of the article, and, 2) if possible a word document with reviewers comments to be archived at EOE, but not be available for public view.
Images for EoE
While students are waiting for review, they should search for appropriate images. We suggest using only those available in the public domain, or with similar copy-rights as the EoE, which include government sites and images published on Wikipedia.
Posting to the Wiki
Once articles are reviewed and the advisor is satisfied with response to reviewers' comments, students load articles and images onto the EOE! This provides a great opportunity for students to become comfortable with posting to the wiki. Our experience is that this is easy for some students, and very difficult for others. However, all students fully appreciated the power of becoming familiar and comfortable with wikis.
For those advisors not familiar with the wiki, we would be happy to run a teleconference for the class or the advisor on the basics of working with the wiki.
As articles are loaded it is imperative that faculty or students alert EOE that their articles are up and ready for EOE review, and publication. Please send 1) Student's name 2) Faculty advisor's name 3) Affiliation 4) Article title and 5) wiki URL to email@example.com. This is the only way we can keep track of articles and ensure quick turn around time on our end. Our goal is to review student's articles within a week of submission.
Publication of articles
Every article approved for publication becomes part of the general collection of the EOE. Some projects also organize the articles to produce specialized content. Student articles from the Mount Holyoke project helped provided the basis for the Contaminants Reader. Students from Texas Tech University contributed articles to the EOE's Ecology Collection.
Example articles written by Mount Holyoke students (original work with instructor and external review):
- Synthetic musks
- Atrazine in the environment
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
- Fate and effects of perchlorate
Example articles written by Texas Tech students (original work with instructor and review):
Example articles written by Boston University students (Wikipedia articles with student peer review and instructor review):